The ancient Kingdom of Northumbria was the cradle of the Christian church that we know today. It was at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 under the auspices of Oswiu that the decision was made that the Christian North of England should follow the Roman rather than the Celtic model of Christianity. This was a landmark in British history. Kyneburgha, therefore, was at the centre of the foundation of the Christian church as we know it. By 654 King Penda’s son, Peada, married King Oswiu’s daughter, Ahlflaed. So here we have the two dynasties linked by marriage of two sets of siblings. Oswiu made it a condition of this second marriage that Peada convert to Christianity. Peada returned to Mercia as sub-king of modern Northants and Leics and may well have settled at Castor.
The dynastic marriages did not prevent further war between Oswiu and Penda and in 654 or 655 Penda was killed at the Battle of Winwaed. The location is unknown today but Winwaed was probably a tributary of the Humber. Oswiu spared Peada (who had not been involved in the conflict) and between them they founded the first Mercian monastery at Medehamsted - modern Peterborough to whom Peada gave his name. Ahlfrith had been alongside his father at Winwaed but is known to have also made attempts to usurp his father. This may account for his unrecorded “disappearance” from history. It is probably following this death that Kyneburgha arrived at 664 to establish a convent for both men and women at Castor, possibly aided by another brother - Wulfhere - who had succeeded Penda who had been murdered - possibly by his wife! Just to cap it all, Kyneburgha’s successor was her sister, Cyneswith, who “might” have been married to the legendary King Offa of Mercia. She also was declared a saint. Phew! Thus we see that Castor not only had great significance in the Roman era but was also part of the dynastic and religious upheavals of the Anglo-Saxon period.
It is known that Viking raids had ruined the fabric of Castor Church by 1012. The Normans rebuilt the church, re-using some of the Saxon fabric especially for the nave, and it was re-dedicated on 17 April 1124. Some Anglo-Saxon long-and-short work survives on the north side. This re-building gave us the nave, the remarkable tower, most of the transepts and the capitals that we see today. Between 1220 and 1230 the South Aisle and chancel were replaced and, according to the Church Guide, the porch added - although it looks later. The chancel gained Early English lancet windows but the aisle arches remained almost round-headed, possibly to avoid complex changes to the church’s overall geometry in this “Transitional” (between Romanesque and Gothic) period of church architecture . We know that the Norman west door was blocked at this point and it is speculated that it was reconstructed as the present south door.
The south transept was extended between 1260 and 1270, but again we see Norman style being utilised. Was this architectural conservatism or simply a wish to retain a “wholeness” in the structure? I rather like the idea of the architect rejecting “that new-fangled French rubbish!” The north aisle and spire were added in the Decorated style between 1310-1330. The rooflines were made more shallow around 1450. The “angel roof” dates from this period as does the perpendicular style east window. The angels have been repainted in startlingly bright colours but these are claimed to be true to the original. The wonderful wall painting of St Catherine - complete with wheel - in the north transept also dates from c14.